March 6, 2023 at 7:19 pm #187460
<p style=”text-align: left;”>Hey there James & Roger</p>
<p style=”text-align: right;”>I’ve been listening on and came across one of the early podcasts with Bev Wood. Many times throughout the episode you mention printer lights and how todays cinematographers may make mistakes in there digital ‘negative’ because we’ve moved away from this.</p>
But I have to ask, do you still work or think in that way while shooting or in post now that we can physically see what’s happening in our image? Is there anything that you see as positive/negative now that we’ve moved away from printer lights?
March 6, 2023 at 8:19 pm #187474Giovanni LouisorParticipant
The closest equivalent in digital color grading to printer lights is the use of the “offset” wheel, which adjust the offset of the individual RGB channels in a linear fashion in log gamma. This method, coupled with the enabling of “Printer Light Hotkeys” (in Davinci Resolve)—which allows for more precise adjustment of the offset wheel—adjusts the balance of the image in a simple but precise fashion. I would say that, although not printer lights in the photochemical sense, the offset wheel is still often used by colorists to this day.March 6, 2023 at 8:21 pm #187477
In the digital world it is hard to understand just how ‘well’ the image has been exposed. I do believe that a well exposed image makes a difference and printer lights were a simple way to reflect the true exposure of that image. I like to translate the lab. 7 point scale of exposure to DI timing.March 6, 2023 at 8:25 pm #187478
Ah yes and I have played with such tools in resolve. It actually makes it much easier to grade as it’s a point based system (+\-1) within each RGB channel as opposed to moving a wheel around.. i’m no colorist so I can’t say that I full understand resolve in all it’s complexities.March 6, 2023 at 8:29 pm #187479
Roger, i’m more recently shooting 16mm on a Bolex and mostly gauge off my meter where a general exposure would land — printer lights are done once the film has (or is) been scanned correct? Then you can tell if you’ve been under or over in the shooting process?
Your DI on the day sort of has your back while shooting, monitoring scopes or waveform, but I imagine in your head you still expose just as you would’ve when shooting film.
I hope i’m not complicating the topic, i’m just curious to your methodMarch 7, 2023 at 8:56 am #187573dmullenascParticipant
It’s tricky to talk about how to know exactly how your negative is exposed except in obvious cases of heavy over or underexposure. Even when talking about printer lights, keep in mind that the printers were calibrated at each lab slightly differently, printing at 25-25-25 (middle of the 1-50 scale for each color) didn’t yield the same results at every lab with the same piece of negative — though the lab could tell you want something shot “normally” based on LAD values should print at. More or less.
This is why testing in prep was so important, what mattered is that you found a set of printer lights you felt was best for the image you wanted. After that was determined, day by day you could find out if your footage was printing close to what you wanted, knowing that underexposed footage would end up using lower numbers, etc. Or you could do what cinematographers like Richard Kline did, actually tell the labs to use a set of numbers — then you’d find out yourself if your footage was too dark or too bright rather than have to corrected for you. Of course he did that in the days when there was only one Kodak stock to shoot. With the varieties of stocks later, and daily variations in lab chemistry, etc., I was more likely to ask that the roll be timed for a grey card shot at the head.
If you’re shooting film, then having a neutral gray card (and face) — shot in boring, flat “white” light so that there is no creative interpretation involved in deciding what “neutral” and “normal” is — is the best way of knowing if the footage that follows the card was under or overexposed a bit more than intended.March 7, 2023 at 10:15 am #187586
Thank you for such a considered answer!!
Since I’ve shot entirely digital in my career, my familiarity with printer lights is only up to the last few weeks, so it all feels rather “sorcery”. Your example including Richard Kline makes sense to me though as I assume it would’ve otherwise been left up to a lab technician to decide what was ‘normal’?
Also thank you for the tip about doing tests and shooting a grey card at the top of the roll –that helps me understand this more.March 7, 2023 at 11:26 am #187602
If you are shooting 16mm film and the lab is making a work print then you will be given printer lights reflecting the density of the negative. You could also ask them to time the negative without actually going to the expense of making a print. As David says, a mid light was supposedly 25 – 25 – 25 but each lab varied in its development and printing. I used a NY lab, DuArt, and my regular timing light was more likely to be something like 29 – 31 – 29 as I liked a heavy negative. Some cinematographers, such as Chris Menges or Richard Kline, would give the lab the light they wanted to print at but I could never be that precise. I am told that Conrad Hall, on the other hand, would print his negative anywhere from an 18 to a 60 light. I like the point system on the Resolve, which does seem more precise than the wheel, but I am still never quite sure if my base exposure is in the ‘middle’.March 8, 2023 at 12:09 am #187835quijotesco24Participant
In Davinci Resolve you can use the waveform plus a spot selection tool as a spot lighmeter to gauge exposure. Same as you would do while shooting but in post.
We use it all the time to know what’s the exposure related to middle grey of all elements of a frame. It’s super precise in the sense that if you have tested all your workflow with the exact LUTs you will use (to know the toe and slope of your workflow basically and how and where all minus and plus stops from middle grey land in the waveform) then you can exactly replicate any image you want.
This is how I learn about exposure from others people frames. We have measured a great deal of your images Sir Deakins!
Of course you are measuring final frames with all the post work on them but it gives you a clear idea where different DPs like to put, related to middle grey, their skin tone, to know the ratios between bright/dark side, between subject and background…
The important part is that maybe you are wrong because they exposed in one way and after they bring everything down in post, but what the system allows is to replicate that image adapted to your workflow with the exact ratios used.
One of the post guys I worked with taught me this but I’m sure more people use this system and there must be a article/video about it. Otherwise I can post pictures showing it.March 8, 2023 at 7:52 am #188259dmullenascParticipant
Keep in mind that the proper or right exposure artistically isn’t necessarily a full or “normal” exposure – what’s more important is consistency of exposure across the coverage. That’s where the tools are handy.March 8, 2023 at 9:05 am #188327
@Roger — Ah I’m starting to see where there was confusion in my thinking. Printer lights and timing are completely separate from each other? I was assuming they were a part of the same process.
So if one shoots on 16mm (or any film for that matter) and scans to digital, then there is no real need for printer lights as that’s meant for projection?
@Quijotesco — Yes I’ve done something similar using Resolves false color to figure out ratios between background and talent or to see where the overall exposure lies within a frame. You’re correct though in saying that the final image is what you’re basing it off of, so if it was decided in post to take down the background 1 or more stops… you’re left up to imagination.
@David — That’s the most true statement if I’ve ever heard it haha. At the end of the day it’s not so much technicallities as it’s about the story and how we feel about it.March 8, 2023 at 4:19 pm #188585Giovanni LouisorParticipant
If you’re scanning the negative and not printing it, there’s no need to have a predetermined and consistent printer light. One of the things that will be important is that the settings on the scanner are carefully defined to maintain accuracy in digitally reproducing the negative.March 9, 2023 at 2:09 pm #189193
True, but you still need to have a consistent exposure of your negative. If you have a lab give you lights from an analysis of the negative on a Haseltine you will know where your exposures lie.
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